Interaction between oral squamous cell carcinoma cells and fibroblasts through TGF-β1 mediated by podoplanin

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Podoplanin is upregulated in the invasive front of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) may mediate podoplanin expression. However, the role of podoplanin in OSCC cell and fibroblast interaction remains elusive. In the present study, we found that positive podoplanin expression in OSCC cells correlated with smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) expression in CAFs. Using CAFs and normal mucosal fibroblasts (NFs), we established indirect and direct co-culture systems mimicking the structure of OSCC. Podoplanin-overexpressing OSCC cells promoted NF activation; in direct co-culture, but not in indirect co-culture, podoplanin-overexpressing OSCC cells increased fibroblast invasion via matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP-2), MMP-14, and αv/β6 integrin receptor (ITGA5/ITGB6) signaling. CAFs also induced podoplanin expression through the transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1)/Smad pathway. TGF-β1 increased the podoplanin-dependent activation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), AKT, and extracellular signal–regulated kinase (ERK) signaling. Additionally, CAFs promoted OSCC cell invasion by upregulating MMP-2 and MMP-14 expression in both indirect and direct co-culture. Taken together, our findings indicate that podoplanin regulates the interaction between OSCC cells and CAFs via the mutual paracrine effects of TGF-β1.HIGHLIGHTSParacrine TGF-β1 from PDPN-positive OSCC cells activates NFs.PDPN-positive OSCC cells promote fibroblast invasion in direct co-culture.The fibroblast invasion is promoted through MMP-2, MMP-14, and ITGA5 signaling.MMP-2 and MMP-14 upregulation by TGF-β1 from CAFs and cancer cells promote OSCC cell invasion.

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